The one-off grant scheme is designed to support farm businesses restore flooded agricultural land and bring it back into production as quickly as possible and will be used. It will also help farmers introduce’ lasting and sustainable’ flood prevention measures once land is restored.
It is expected the money will be used for projects like river dredging in Somerset, expected to cost £4m in total.
The fund is part of a wider package of flood measures announced by Prime Minister David Cameron last week, which also includes £5,000 grants for affected homes and businesses and 100 per cent business rate relief.
Defra Secretary Owen Paterson is expected to give more details on the package and the Government’s response to the flooding at next week’s NFU conference in Birmingham, if he is fit to attend. Mr Paterson has still not returned to work following recent eye surgery and, although he intends to address the conference, there is a question mark over his participation.
Peter Kendall, who stands down as NFU president next, defended the role of farmers in the current flooding, after environmentalist and journalist George Monbiot blamed the situation on poor soil management.
Mr Monbiot wrote that the switch by many farmers from spring to winter sowing, leaving the soil bare during the rainy season, and the increasing cultivation of maize on hills, which has broken soil structures and is accompanied by ‘bare soil’ for much of the year, had contributed to flooding in the South West.
“In three quarters of the maize fields in the south-west, the soil structure has broken down to the extent that they now contribute to flooding. In many of these fields, soil, fertilisers and pesticides are sloshing away with the water,” he wrote.
He claimed the situation had been exacerbated by a relaxation of Government cross compliance rules regarding soil management.
Mr Kendall acknowledged that there can be a problem with maize. But he said the solution should be to take measures to address the run-off, such as direct drilling maize as part of a rotation so the soil is kept more stable, rather than stopping agricultural production.
“It is profoundly depressing for farmers to keep hearing they are to blame for everything and to hear this negative rant time after time after time. If George Monbiot’s vision is to return to 1,000 years ago of forested Britain before the Armadas were built then, God help us, because the population of the world has doubled in my lifetime,” he said.
“Most of this grassland was ploughed up to feed the nation at a time of war. This notion that modern farming is destroying the environment is wrong. We have reduced pesticide use, we have reduced fertiliser use. I was down in Gloucestershire in the Severn catchment where farmers were working really hard to keep their soils more stable. They have not got the answer 100 per cent but they are working on it because the soil in the river isn’t the answer for anybody,” he said.
He added developing ‘managed weirs’ was a more effective way of of slowing water flow in the upland than ‘the odd tree orplanting willows in the middle of waterway’.
“This is an opportunity to make sure the pendulem is tilted up a bit more to get the right balance food production and the environment.”